Demystifying School Funding

School Funding | 06/01/2020

Zach Hammer
State Organizing Director

Who determines school funding? Where does the money for our schools come from? How are school funds released? What can I do to help make sure my child’s school has adequate funding? Who makes decisions about the school budget? 

They’re big questions, but the answers don’t have to be complicated. Let’s start with a big one: 

Who makes decisions about the school budget? 

Our school budgets are determined by a lot of decision-makers, and you are one of them. 

Most of the funding for Oregon schools comes from the state government. Our state legislature, the Governor’s office, local school boards, and local school districts ultimately determine how funds are used, starting at the state level. Schools are funded by something called the State School Fund (SSF).   


Where does the money come from? 

Most of this money comes from the state general fund (which is largely from state income tax), and about 25% comes from local property taxes. These funds are combined, then distributed to all Oregon school districts, according to a formula.  The formula is based on the number of students, and adjusted for specific higher needs like special education, poverty, and English Language Learners.  

What does the process look like? 

  • Every other year in September, the Oregon Department of Education puts together a 2-year budget request. 
  • The Governor uses these recommendations to draft our statewide budget, called the Governor’s Recommended Budget (GRB). 

  • The GRB is prepared and printed by November 10th, but kept confidential until public release, where they usually have a press conference, on December 1st.  

NOTE: On odd numbered years, our state writes this two-year budget in the 6-month “long” legislative session.  In even numbered years, there is a short 6-week session, where smaller budget adjustments can be made. 


Committees, committees, and more committees 

In our state legislature we have 2 chambers: The House and Senate. Each of those chambers has an Education committee. These groups meet to discuss and make decisions on the majority of our school funds, based on recommendations from people like us, interest groups, the Oregon Department of Education and the Governor’s office.  Legislators will seek input from educators, state education leaders, and school board members, among others.   

Then they send their recommendations to the budget committee, called “Ways and Means”.  The work starts off in the subcommittee for education, then goes to the full “Ways and Means” committee. It is during these committee budget discussions that parents and community members like us can speak up and share our concerns with our own legislators, and with the committee members.  Stand for Children members have opportunities to go to the state Capitol in Salem to meet their legislators, and to email and call them. We may testify to the committees.  

The legislature also has revenue and finance committees that discuss taxes, fees, and how to raise and regulate state funds. We can communicate and speak up for our kids to those committees as well.  

It’s important to vote for legislators who support schools. You can work with Stand to talk with your legislators in between legislative sessions, too, instead of just when they are in Salem. 


Legislative Sessions 

Votes on the budget bill by each chamber of the Legislature (House & Senate) determine the Legislatively Adopted Budget (LAB). The budget bills from all of the agencies are usually combined into one big bill, called an omnibus bill. 

The LAB sets out general fund appropriations, lottery fund allocations, other funds and federal funds expenditure limitations, and other guidance. . This process usually plays out over the course of months, many times coming down to the last weeks to adopt a final budget for the state. 

Following the conclusion of the legislative session, the budget is now official. It can only be changed by h the state Emergency Board, a special legislative session, or the next session. 

You can get involved here by contacting your lawmakers.  


Enter: School Districts & School Boards 

After the amount of school funding has been determined by the state, the school districts know how much they will receive and can get to work planning their budgets for the next year.   

District staff meet and hammer out details and plans. They draft a plan that is presented to their budget committees.  Budget committees are volunteers - people from the community, as well as members of the elected volunteer school board.  You can apply to be on your local budget committee.  

Again, teachers, parents, and other community members have an opportunity to see the proposed local budget, and to go to budget committee meetings or write to the school board with comments. 

Budget committees generally meet in the spring.  Stand members often attend these meetings – you can join us!  After taking community input and making any changes, the School Board must hold a public hearing, then vote to approve the budget by the deadline of June 30 every year. 


Where does the Federal Government come in?

Funds from the Federal Government are earmarked for specific programs, and can only be spent on those areas: Title I reading and math support for low income schools, special education, school meals, and some other smaller programs. This is only about 10% of all school funding.  

You can get involved here by voting in Federal elections. 


Parent and student voices are critical to making sure decisions are made that put students first, that hold adults accountable, and that support our most vulnerable children  

We’re involved at every step of the process, and if you want to be, too (or at all) just email us! The more you are involved, the more we can shape the future of Oregon’s education to do what is right for our children.   

For more resources about the state budget process go here. 

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